Friday, September 5, 2014

Haisoki, vol. 1 review

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Haisoki, vol. 1, by Takehito Shima, 2012, Grade B+
Takehito is a middle-aged manga artist working for Kodansha in Tokyo. Manga Updates doesn't have any info on him, and only lists two titles under his name - Haisoki and Aruki Henro Zukan (2013). Everything we learn about him comes from the Haisoki manga, which starts out recounting a specific event in the 1600's... In 1600 AD, Ieyasu Tokugawa was in the middle of his attempt to unify Japan's warring states by conquering various local warlords one at a time. One such warlord was Yoshihiro Shimazu, the daimyo of Satsuma in Kyushu (what is now modern Kagoshima). Yoshihiro was supposed to align himself with Tokugawa, but for various reasons he sided with Ishida Mitsunari instead. However, Yoshihiru and Ishida also had a falling out, and during the major battle of Sekigahara, Yoshihiro and his 1,500 troops refused to fight. Ishida's side was wiped out and the Satsuma forces were stranded in the middle of Tokugawa's 30,000-troop army. Yoshihiro had planned to lead a suicide charge against Tokugawa, but his nephew, Toyohisa Shimazu told him to not throw his life away over something so meaningless. Instead, Yoshihiro decided to retreat from the battle by rushing forward through the bulk of Tokugawa's forces in order to reach safety in Osaka. Toyohisa and many of Yoshihiro's men died during the rush, but Yoshihiro and at least 50 of his soldiers survived and later made their way back to Kyushu by ship.

(Back cover)

"Haiso" can be treated as "to take flight" and "ki" is "diary" or "report". When we first meet manga artist "Shikaizu", he's rather rudely discovered that his plan to retrace Shimazu's footsteps from Sekigahara to Osaka has been somewhat modified by his editor, Maikuza. Shikaizu loves drawing young women in sexy poses, and is hoping that Kodansha will pay for his train tickets so he can try picking up girlfriends at various points along the route. Instead, Maikuza and another staff member had a good laugh and then announced that Shikaizu is going to spend 6 days walking the entire 250 km (155 miles), carrying a camcorder to help prove that he didn't cheat along the way.

(Maikuza filming Shikaizu at the beginning of the trip for the big send off.)

Shikaizu starts off, and his part of the trip is interspersed with his imagined view of what Shimazu and his men went through. Initially, the men expect to die at Sekigahara, and one of them, Shikaizu Nahee (the author's supposed ancestor) is not really happy with having to run through the enemy in what's really the wrong direction for getting to Kyushu. The hardships that they encounter include running out of food, discovering that the inhabitants of each of the villages along the way want to kill them for the reward money, a lack of sleep, and just general despair. At one point, the men are forced to take a hostage and end up killing the rest of the family that interrupts them. At another, the group accepts food from some villagers, but have to pay for it by giving up a very expensive katana scabbard that was one of the soldier's prized family heirlooms. All along the way, Nahee, is the most downhearted, desperate of all the men, and he's constantly surprised by how the others cope with the trip.

(Nahee discovering that the villagers plan on killing him and his companions.)

Back in the present, Shikaizu is having an equally rough time of it. He's just short of 40 years old, most of that time being spent at the drawing table working on only-marginally successful manga. He's completely out of shape, and even the camera seems overly heavy after a short time. Whenever he tries to use the camera, women with small children pop up and accuse him of being some kind of pervert. On his first big hill, he thinks he's going to die, when he's passed by a woman on a road bike. Humiliated, he keeps trudging on and ends the day at a hotel where his big meal contrasts against the fact that Shimazu's men had nothing to eat on their first night. The next day, he's back on the road, both feet bandaged up because of blisters. He meets another cyclist, this one a doctor on hiatus. The doctor had gone to India, gained enlightenment, then returned to Japan for a cycling pilgrimage. However, he's gotten lost on his way back to Tokyo and is heading to Osaka instead. Again, Shikaizu gets shamed for being so old and flabby when younger people are working harder and accomplishing more than him.

(Day 2, 58km down, 192 to go. 16 km in for the day, 54 km left to go by night fall.)

The doctor rides off, but ends up staying at the same inn that Shikaizu crashes at that night. The next day, Shikaizu gets up early to keep going and when it starts raining, he takes a break at a bus stop where he encounters a 15-year-old boy who has escaped from home to track down his run-away father. The boy is very optimistic, and dislikes the fact that Shikaizu wants to give up his hike so quickly. In the middle of a thunderstorm, the boy leaves. Shikaizu eventually resumes walking, but the rain is so bad that he's overcome with depression. He reaches a crossroads, with one sign pointing to Osaka, and the other to a nearby train station. He gives up, gets to the station and takes a train to a town where he finds a hotel. Realizing that his failure to complete the trip equates to having to forfeit his career as a manga artist, he goes into a funk and refuses to answer his cellphone when his editor calls him. After several attempted calls, Shikaizu picks it up, to his editor's relief. Japan is being torn apart by a typhoon and Maikuza was worried about him. Shikaizu says that he's throwing in the towel, and Maikuza answers back with, "Ok, that's understandable. This typhoon is horrible and we didn't expect you to walk through it. Come back and start drawing your report. Manga is manga, and a report of how you failed to finish the walk is just as interesting as if you completed it."

(The doctor shows Shikaizu to a guest house filled with cute foreign female tourists.)

The next day, the sky is clear and Shikaizu is in better spirits. He buys lots more tape, bandages up his throbbing feet and decides to keep trying. Generally, the back roads he takes are deserted, which does make it harder to keep his spirits up. By the fourth day, he's starving. The inn owner told him about a good noodle shop along the way, but it's closed when he reaches it. At the end of the day, he reaches town, but what looks to be restaurants turn out to be shops that sell plastic display food. A driver at a rest stop sees him, and offers to drive him to a good inn for dinner. The driver had planned to go to the inn with his girlfriend, but she dumped him, so the guy goes anyway and invites Shikaizu for company. The 5th day, the driver takes Shikaizu back to the rest stop, and the manga artist keeps going. He recalls a story that Shimazu would have known - a noble woman and her handmaid arrive at a shrine late at night in a heavy rain. The noble woman is pregnant and about to give birth. The handmaid calls for help, and the fox goddess of the shrine appears to help deliver the baby. Shikaizu's image of the Sekigahara escape adventure includes having the men watched over by a fox. At about mid-day, he sees a vending machine on the other side of an intersection and starts racing forward to buy some juice. He hears a cry behind him, so he stops and turns to see a fox sitting a ways back just as a semi truck barrels past. Shikaizu realizes that he'd just been about to walk in front of it, and when he turns back to thank the fox for saving him, it's gone.


On the 6th day, he reaches Osaka, and he now knows exactly how his ancestor felt when Shimazu finished his trip. He gets to his hotel, where he meets the doctor again. Shikaizu can understand what the doctor underwent in India, and says that he's ready to return to work as an artist again. He gets to the temple at the end of the route, where he's greeted by his editor. Maikuza congratulates him on finishing his trip, and pulls out a big dice to roll - on a 1 or a 2, he has to go to Kagoshima; on a 3 he has to walk back to Sekigahara; and 4, 5 or 6 lets him take the bullet train to Tokyo. Shikaizu doesn't like the joke and threatens his editor. That night, they're on the train to Tokyo, and Shikaizu says that he actually wants to keep doing these kinds of manga report trips in the future.

Comments: Overall, the artwork is primitive and sketchy. Shima can draw cute manga girls, but everyone in this book is much cruder-looking. The backgrounds are simplified, and the pictures give the impression of "being a comic". But, that's not the point. The real focus of Haisoki is to show Shima's trials and contrast them with what Shimazu had to have gone through when navigating a battle zone 400 years earlier. Here in Kagoshima, the "Charge of Sekigahara" is still well-known, and is commemorated with a 20-kilometer hike every October (the Myouenji Walk from Kagoshima to Ijuin). For me, Haisoki is an interesting look at local history, which is why I recommend it to anyone with similar interests.

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